The exchange of princesses

The exchange of princesses

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Title: The Exchange of the two Princesses of France and Spain on the Bidassoa in Hendaye, November 9, 1615

Author : RUBENS Pierre Paul (1577 - 1640)

Creation date : 1622 -

Date shown: November 9, 1615

Dimensions: Height 394 cm - Width 295 cm

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage Photographic agency

Picture reference: 02-000804 / INV1782

The Exchange of the two Princesses of France and Spain on the Bidassoa in Hendaye, November 9, 1615

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage

Publication date: October 2017

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

A badly placed canvas?

In 1622, Marie de Medici placed an order from the famous Antwerp painter Rubens for a series of canvases intended to form a thematic cycle and to decorate the western gallery of the brand new Luxembourg Palace. Wife ofHenry IV and mother of Louis XIII, Marie de Médicis exercised power during the years 1610-1617, before being dismissed by her son until 1621. The cycle painted by Rubens was intended to celebrate the return to grace of a queen attracted by the exercise of authority.

In the gallery of the Luxembourg Palace, in which the paintings are arranged chronologically, The exchange of the two princesses was placed between The Capture of Juliers (July 1610) and The Majority of Louis XIII (October 1614), while the double royal wedding took place in 1615. To show that the event took place during the regency of the queen mother, rather than after the declaration of the king's majority, is give it all the glory.

Image Analysis

A double portrait with perfect symmetry

Each princess is accompanied by an allegory of her home kingdom. On the right, France dressed in a fleurdelysé blue coat and wearing a crested helmet grabs the new queen of France by the arm and presents Madame Élisabeth to Spain. This is embodied by another woman (and not by a "More" as provided for in the preparatory program for the completion of the cycle), a perfect symmetry of France. Front, Anne of Austria, Infanta of Spain and 14-year-old sister of Philip IV, becomes Queen of France through her marriage to Louis XIII; she has already adopted the dress codes of her host country and wears a French dress. For her part, soon to be thirteen, Elisabeth of France is wearing a dress topped with a Spanish ruff; sister of Louis XIII, she has just married Philippe IV of Spain by proxy and is preparing to join him.

In the air, a dance of putti drawn by Felicity announces abundance and the golden age of which the double marriage is promising. The golden rain poured out from the cornucopia very explicitly signifies the fruits that will be drawn from the dynastic rapprochement between France and Spain. Naiads and rivers join in the jubilation in the foreground and recall the context of the exchange, on a bridge spanning the Bidassoa, the border between the two kingdoms.


The absence-presence of the queen mother

Rubens signs a painting strongly marked by allegory and the only one in the series from which Marie de Medici is physically absent. The queen mother does not need to be represented, for the double marriage is her work in the eyes of posterity; painting it is in itself a symbol of the Medicean action. This is why the physical absence disappears in favor of the symbolic presence, eminently stronger and more suggestive. Marie de Medici negotiated at length the union of the two largest Catholic crowns of Europe, thinking thus to maintain peace in the intertwining of dynastic ties. She won her case in 1615 and the exchange of princesses took place on November 9 of that year. However, the marriages did not disrupt French geopolitics, which retained its network of Protestant alliances within the empire.

Marie de Medici paid particular attention to the Spanish double marriage; it was for her a motive of personal glory with European repercussions. Reaffirming the importance of marriages was thus a way of responding to the criticisms and rebellions for which they had been the pretext during the regency. To do so in 1622, when Marie de Medici regained a place on the council with Louis XIII after five years of estrangement, was also to legitimize the past government of the queen mother. However, in the early 1620s, the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria could not be considered a success, due to the relational distance between the two spouses and the inability of the couple to procreate a male heir - it was not until 1638 to see the birth of the future Louis XIV.

  • Anne of Austria
  • Louis XIII
  • royal bride
  • wedding
  • allegory
  • Medici (Marie de)


Fanny COSANDEY, The Queen of France. Symbol and power, Gallimard, Paris, 2000.

Id., “To represent a queen of France. Marie de Medici and the cycle of Rubens at the Luxembourg Palace ”, in Clio. Women, Gender, History [online], 19 - 2004, posted on November 27, 2005, consulted on September 30, 2016. URL:

Jean-François DUBOST, Marie de Medici. The queen unveiled, Payot, Paris, 2009.

Marie-Anne LESCOURRET, Rubens, Flammarion, Paris, 1990.

Marie de Médicis, government through the arts, Somogy art editions and Château de Blois, 2003 (exhibition catalog).

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "The exchange of princesses"


  • Medici: Florentine family of bankers, collectors and protectors of the arts. Its members gradually seized power in Florence in the 15th century. Two great Renaissance popes came from it: Leo X (1475-1521) and Clement VII (1478-1534). Ennobled in the 16th century, the Medici family allied themselves twice with France by giving it two queens and regents: Catherine (1519-1589), wife of Henri II, and Marie (1575-1642), wife of Henri IV .

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